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12/13/11 2:10 PM EST

Baseball Tomorrow Fund making a difference

Total of $1.7 million in grants awarded to communities in 2011

A week after Major League Baseball International officials conducted a South Africa baseball clinic at a facility it made possible, the Baseball Tomorrow Fund on Tuesday announced it has awarded $1.7 million in grants this year to more than 55 communities in North America.

The process was culminated in the fourth quarter by grant awards of $230,000 to five communities, including: Kansas City (Bishop Ward High School); Providence, R.I. (Community Preparatory School); Tobyhanna (Pa.) Little League; Toronto (East York Baseball Association); and Vineland, N.J.

"The Baseball Tomorrow Fund is very pleased to have had the opportunity to help so many communities maintain their youth baseball and softball programs and facilities," said Cathy Bradley, executive director of BTF. "The fact that we've been able to help provide funding so thousands of young people can play the game they love is very rewarding, and it inspires us to make sure we sustain our efforts for years to come. Thank you to Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association for their continuous and tremendous support."

The 2011 grants served 45,000 youth players and supported their baseball and softball programs. Also, 2011 marked the seventh consecutive year BTF was host to an annual "Equipment Day" at Major League ballparks, where clubs collected more than 15,000 pieces of equipment and more than $157,000 in cash donations to support each club's local youth baseball and softball initiatives and programs.

Since 2005, the BTF/MLB Equipment Day initiative has collected nearly 100,000 pieces of equipment and has raised approximately $1.25 million in cash donations to benefit organizations in need.

Additionally, BTF started the "BTF Grants for Grant Writing Service," a new grant opportunity awarded to organizations in need of professional grant writing services. These grants (up to $5,000) are intended to provide support to organizations that lack staff and experience in grant writing, and facilitate an organization's pursuit of grants to fund youth baseball and softball programs and facilities.

Last week, MLB International held an African Elite Camp in Cape Town, South Africa for 40 of that continent's top young baseball players. Coaches from each participating nation, including Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe, also were on hand to learn from the experienced MLB staff.

The camp took place at the Athlone A's Baseball Club, home to one of the South African Baseball Union's intensive training centers, which serves more than 400 players. The new indoor facility at the complex, which features batting cages, pitching mounds and a workout facility, was made possible through a BTF grant of more than $200,000 awarded in March 2010.

"Major League Baseball has already seen that impressive talent can come from the continent -- from Team South Africa's performance in the 2009 World Baseball Classic to the caliber of skill demonstrated by players from Nigeria, Ghana and Uganda who have attended the MLBI European Academy," said Paul Archey, senior vice president of MLBI. "This Elite Camp will support the development of skilled players across Africa in reaching their competitive potential and we are confident that the talent demonstrated will be substantial."

"The Baseball Tomorrow Fund is pleased to support the growth and development of baseball in Africa through the Athlone A's training center," Bradley added. "We hope the center will provide players in Africa with the opportunity to train and further their skills while creating a facility for more young people to become involved in the game."

Rick Magnante, manager of the A's Vermont Lake Monsters Minor League affiliate, was lead instructor at the African Elite Camp. He has managed in the Minor Leagues for nine years, and also was the manager of the South African National Team in the 2006 and '09 World Baseball Classics. Mike Randall, one of Magnante's coaches during the World Baseball Classics in 2006 and '09, was an instructor along with Tim Garland and German Geigel.

Since its formation by MLB and the MLB Players Association in 1999, the Baseball Tomorrow Fund has awarded more than 550 grants totaling more than $20 million to non-profit and tax-exempt organizations in the U.S., Canada, Latin America, the Caribbean, Europe, Africa and Asia. About 250,000 youth players have benefited from programs and facilities supported by BTF. The fund receives about 400 applications each year and awards grants on a quarterly basis after a selective review process.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. Read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com community blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.